October 4, 2017: The Search for Hope


(Photo credit: Los Angeles Times)

There are times when all that we can pray is that God would hear within the anguish of our hearts all that we cannot express in words. Already 2017 has seen volcanic devastation in Vanuatu and earthquakes in Kyrgyzstan, Mexico and the Philippines. There has been flooding in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Thailand, and landslides in China, Guinea, Tajikistan and Vietnam. North Korea has been hit with drought. Hurricane Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria brought devastation to islands in the Caribbean and the U.S. mainland and territories in that region, including Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe (France), Martinique (France), Montserrat, Puerto Rico (U.S. territory), Saint Barthélemy (France), Saint Eustatius and Saba (The Netherlands), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Maarten (The Netherlands), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Terrorist attacks have indiscriminately scarred the world, month by month, all around the globe.

And this week, a lone gunman unleashed a rapid-fire barrage of bullets from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel late Sunday, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 500 others attending a country music festival, in what is being described as (currently) the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

Watching the news in Las Vegas unfold, I felt such a nauseating mix of horror, anger and heartbreak. Amidst the grief, I was gripped by such a righteous anger at this injustice and once again, rising up within, was that familiar, unanswerable question: "Why, God? Why did You allow this?"

We search for answers that try to make sense of events like this one by appealing to our own free will, or the presence of evil, or the need for gun control, or the effect of the prevalence of violence displayed on television, video games and movies, and so on... yet none of these approaches really help us in the moment. We can draw our conclusions theologically, but existentially these attempts fall flat.

What words are there to adequately describe the pain and suffering of those who lost loved ones or whose lives have been thrown into chaos and the anguish of grief?

What can we know about the heart of God in so much tragedy? In all our shock and grief, in all our anger and dismay in so much pain and suffering, here are three things we can know for sure about God:

1. God has not abandoned us.

Your trust in God may have been severely tested this year and especially by the events in Las Vegas. So where might we draw such confidence that God is present? What would convince us to believe with conviction the promise that God has made to us, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)? How can we be so sure? We are invited to look to the Cross — the place where Jesus supremely demonstrated His love for us by not only refusing to abandon us, but by literally joining us in our pain and suffering.

The agony of the Cross was more than the physical torture, public humiliation and painful death. For Jesus, it was the torment of separation from the Father; the God whom He knew to be powerful now seemed furthest from Him. In Psalm 22, we find Jesus’ words from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving Me, so far from My cries of anguish?” More completely than any other person ever will, Jesus entered into the worst of human suffering and knew the agonizing experience of abandonment by God. We face a tension in the knowledge and experience of a good and loving God on the one hand, and the reality of hurt, bewilderment and suffering that we or others are undergoing on the other. Jesus entered that tension in full on the Cross.  

2. God can be trusted.  

Even in the most difficult times — or better, especially in those times — God would exhort us to trust Him. We have a Savior in Jesus who knows our humanity because He came to us in person. We have a heavenly Father who knows the terrible tragedy of losing His only son. But the final word is not one of defeat because through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have the promise that the bonds of death have been broken. The victory over evil is assured. The apostle Paul wrote, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the Cross.” (Colossians 2:15).

Because of Jesus, because of the Cross, death has been defeated and goodness, mercy, justice, peace and love will prevail. Hear this promise over you: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4).

3. God calls us to join Him.

By His Holy Spirit, we join our hearts with the heart of Jesus, who is with all who grieve and all who are suffering. David wrote, “Even though I walk 
through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; 
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4). Do we imagine that this promise is only for those who have died? No, this assurance is given to all of us who are left to grieve: His rod will guide us, His staff will make a way for us.

As the dust settles on this tragic event, this is our calling as His people: discern where Jesus is and join Him. Paul wrote, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:2). So let us love louder. Let us pray harder. Let us not allow the evil in this world to overcome our trust in God, and let us serve all who grieve in the power of His love and mercy.

We have so much to pray for, but with the events of just this week still raw in our souls, let us pray for our country, the world and especially those caught in the tragedy of events in Las Vegas:

Lord Jesus, please hear within our hearts all that we cannot express in words.
Lord, we entrust all those who have perished to Your eternal love and care.

We pray for the families who grieve the tragic loss of a precious life.
Make Your presence known. Hold them fast in Your love. Be with those who must break tragic news. Protect them in their grief. Keep the media at bay.

Father, we pray for those traumatized by the events in Las Vegas, those who stood in the line of fire and survived.
Be with the wounded and heal their bodies.
Be with the traumatized and heal the pain of their memory.
Be with all families and friends in their anguish and grief.
In the perfection of Your love, banish fear.
Surround them with Your love.

Father, a tragedy such as this has the power to change a nation.
Lord, let this horror yield goodness and blessing. In such vile wickedness, Lord, would You redeem what seems to be irredeemable.
Give wisdom to all in authority.
Draw all those whose lives have been torn apart by this evil to take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
In overwhelming grief, let Your healing come.

In Jesus’ name, Amen


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